So….what do you do?

Does anyone else hate and/or dread this question when it comes up at dinner parties or other social functions: “So, what do you do?”  Whenever this question comes up, I always take a deep breath and think “conversation has gotten so dull, it has to come to this question, huh?”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great conversation ice-breaker and all, but there is sooooooo much more to learn about each other and from each other than this dull question.  What “we do” usually is asked in the sense of “what do you do for a living?”  What you do for a living does not define who you are.  I feel that when people ask this question, there is a lot of judging that is going to happen when one answers the question and it isn’t fair.  We are all on different paths and everything (including occupations) are fleeting.

I understand that this subject sometimes just comes up naturally in conversation too, but I desire more authentic questions, answers and conversations.  I love hearing people’s stories, hearing what they have been through, what has inspired them.  For the short amount of time I will interact with a stranger I want real connection and to me, sharing each other’s occupations is short-ended and a judging point.  I want real human moments!  🙂

 

“Hey. Could we do that again? I know we haven’t met, but I don’t want to be an ant. You know? I mean, it’s like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on ant autopilot, with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Walk here. Drive there. All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient, polite manner. Here’s your change. Paper or plastic?’ Credit or debit? You want ketchup with that? I don’t want a straw. I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I don’t want to give that up. I don’t want to be ant, you know?”

–Author unknown in Waking Life

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Calling on Everything.

This one goes out to the egg nog latte coffee creamer that makes my black coffee taste delicious.  And to my cat cuddled ever so cozy underneath the comforter.

To my neighbor, who always looks down and never gives me a chance to show her love.

To the upset patient, to the angry driver, this goes out to you.

And to all those near and far: in mansions, in one-story homes, two-story homes, in ramblers, in shacks, in tents, cardboard boxes, and sleeping bags: this goes out to you.

To the birds that wake me up every morning, to the pine trees swaying violently in the wind, to the brightly colored vegetation: this is for you.

For those who have made me cry, for those who have made me smile, for those who have built up my temper until I for surely thought I’d explode, for those who have made me laugh, for those who have made me think, for those who have made me question, for those who have believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself, for those who have inspired me, this is for you.

For you: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Mexico, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Canada, the States, and the places yet to visit, this goes out to you.

For the flat tire, the spilled coffee, the cavities.  For the bruises and for the blood.

For this pen and paper, for the soft pajamas felt against my skin.

For the dark winter months, for the bright summer days, the jogs in the rain, the sweaty summer bike rides.

For the writer’s block and for the random spurts of creativity.

All for you.

And when I forget about the beauty of this world, when I lose passion, when I forget that everything just is: the good, the bad, the neutral.

This is for you, my muse, because you are always there to remind me, I thank you.

With this Breath

When you feel life coming down on you like a heavy weight
When you feel this crazy society adding to the strain
Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge, remember your place” –Xavier Rudd

So I did just that Saturday morning.  I took a stroll alongside Portland’s busy waterfront by myself and without my Ipod, which is usually glued to me.  All six senses were aware and immediately after my hour-long walk, spirit moved through me and these thoughts came to me:

With this breath I am awakened.

With this inhale I feel the damp leaves below my feet.

With this exhale I notice the shimmer of water beside me.

With this breath I am hyper-aware.

With this inhale I see the tired look in the older man’s eyes, the dark circles beneath them.

With this exhale I hear a snippet of conversation between two young women, “you start to realize.”

With this breath I am looking at life outside of myself.

With this inhale I notice the jogger in her bright green neon jacket.

With this exhale the leaves fall upon me.

With this breath I am excited with all of life’s energy around me.

With this inhale I see the boy fiddling with the top button of his overalls.

With this exhale I see the semi-truck flowing smoothly across the bridge.

With this breath I remember.

With this inhale I see the horse-sized dog leaping haphazardly through the rain puddle, splashing it’s owner.

With this exhale I see  the otherworldly change of colors on the tree’s leaves.

With this breath I remember more.

With this inhale I read the cafe’s sign: “Vie.” I smile.

With this exhale I hear a glimpse of two middle-aged women talking, “I’m going to get that massage today after all.”

With this breath I feel a euphoria and want to ask passersby if they have awoken yet.

The fear and confusion dissipates with this breath.

With this breath I am much more than just a shell.

With this breath I am consciousness unfolding.

My Month Without a Cell Phone

After months of envisioning, talking about it and then finally buying a ticket, it was decided: I would be going on a four-week adventure to Southeast Asia.  A new friend that I had met shortly after relocating to Portland, Oregon had mentioned her plans for a trip to Southeast Asia and although that area hadn’t ever crossed my mind on my travel bucket list, her enthusiasm for the location got the travel gears going in my head to join her.  I figured I still had money in savings from my big move and I had a job, but I was planning to quit it due to a strong dislike to the morality of the company I worked for.

I started massively researching Southeast Asia months before the big takeoff and halfway into the planning I had to decide whether or not I’d want to have a cell phone while I was there.  I had heard stories of how expensive international roaming was and I had also heard horror stories about travelers who had forgotten to put their phone on airplane mode and then getting charged astronomical fees upon going back to their home country.

“When I went to Europe with Jeff we got by without phones, we decided on meeting spots at certain times or we would just meet each other back at the hotel.  You know Ilona, people did survive before cell phones….” was the advice my sister gave me after I called her in my serious questioning about whether or not I should get an international plan or a Sims card while in Asia.

A couple of weeks before the start of the big adventure to Asia I called my cell phone provider and asked them about my options, being newly unemployed I wanted to go with the cheapest option which boiled down to their “Seasonal Standby” plan in which with a set fee of $12, my cell phone would be turned off for the month.  This turned out to be $70 cheaper than my usual monthly bill (alas, I would have no device to communicate on anymore.)

The week before the Asia adventure, I spoke with Sophie (my travel companion) about the cell phone plan I had chosen and immediately questioned if it was the right choice after she had told me how she chose to keep her usual plan so that she could receive the free wi-fi to still communicate via internet.  That’s when it really hit me: not only would I not have a way to call friends and family on a whim, I would also not be able to Google, Facebook or email any one on a whim either.  I took a deep breath and realized this would be a big adjustment, but I was willing to take it to save a few dollars.  I also figured that Southeast Asia would overwhelm my senses so much that I would forget about my phone all together.

On the first day of July, the day before my departure to lands across the sea, I awoke and started my morning coffee while grabbing my cell phone to delete all the spam emails I usually received throughout the night along with reading any fun emails along the way.  To my bewilderment, I looked down at the bright screen saver of my phone and saw in bold letters at the top of the screen: NO SERVICE.  I felt a tight sensation in my chest that signified stress along with a feeling of depression that flooded over me.  It was official, the month with no cell phone had started and I was questioning whether or not I really would survive without it.

As I sat in the airport before the 14-hour flight to Asia, my hand kept on getting magnetically pulled toward the pocket in my purse where I usually kept my phone.  As I pulled out a book to read instead, I did a glance over of the seating area I was in and realized I was the only one reading printed pages, every one else in my surroundings had either a cell phone, a laptop, a kindle and/or the thousands of other technological devices one can acquire this day in age.

The first week of my trip continued this way, without my cell phone I noticed that I gained a keen awareness of what everyone and everything else was doing around me.  There were countless times where I found myself a loner as everyone else around me would be looking down, entranced by their handheld technology.  At one point I asked two new travel friends what they were up to on their phones, in which one of them said, with slight stress in his voice, “I’m finally deleting all of these emails that have overtaken my inbox.”  It dawned on me that he was doing what my usual morning coffee hour consisted of back home and I realized right then and there that when I got back to the States, I was going to start a new morning routine, one that didn’t include looking at my phone upon waking up.

By the second week, I was really enjoying my cell phone-free self, it really brought me into the moment and made me incredibly introspective.  When I would get bored, instead of mindlessly browsing the internet on my phone (which is something I’d normally do back home), I would catch up on reading, writing, taking pictures, meditating and daydreaming.  My brain really seemed to open up and any mental blocks that I had seemed to vanish.  The floodgates opened up and so many new ideas were coming to me.

I truly believe that I would not have taken in as much as I did on this trip had I brought my cell phone.  Southeast Asia was quite a site and incredibly inspiring, but I also think that not having my distracting technology by my side was a big contributor in lifting some of the creative blocks I had.  All of this technology brings a stress and numbness to our brains that previous generations never had to experience.

Ever since our cell phones have turned into mini computers, precious time and experiences get wasted or ignored.  Moments that we can never get back will be missed due to our staring down at a little device that has basically become our generations television.  One of my favorite comedians/social critics Bill Hicks has a quote that I love: “Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.”  I couldn’t have said it better, only our “television” is now constantly attached to us and controlling us in ways we’d never care to admit.  I’m sure some could argue that they need their phones constantly on them for important business calls, but there is also something called voicemail that can be used every once in a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as any one else and I absolutely love watching movies and television marathons for hours on end or scrolling down my Facebook news feed mindlessly, I just think that we need to become more aware of life as it used to be….the simpler ways of life.  If you have read this far, I thank you so much for taking time to read this and I just ask one thing of you.  Put down this technological device, even if for just 15 minutes and take in the life around you.  Take in the colors, the feel of your breath, the sounds surrounding you.  Just remember there is a lot more to life than these little devices, so next time you accidentally drop your phone in the toilet or it gets smashed to pieces by an accidental drop, don’t feel too bad because life exists outside of it.  That cell phone can get replaced, but moments in the present exist for a miniscule second and can never be replaced.

Random wonders…..

I love life so much and all it has to offer.  I love hearing songs, stories, and thoughts that give me chills.  I love those random thoughts and ideas of creativity that come to me (even if half the time I don’t act on them.)  I love thinking about the future and of the past.  I love that I have this moment.  I really need to keep remembering the moment.

I’m always so worried about shit that needs to get done, but I just need to chill out and enjoy the moment along with the people and places that are in it.  Huggy curling up on the pillow to the right of me, my new bedroom of one month, the cursor in front of me blinking, my computer making a loud buzzing sound every other second (it’s on it’s last legs.)  I’m really enjoying this moment.

Life.  Life, why are you so difficult and at the same time so simple?  Sad, sad, sad.  Happy, happy, happy.  The tune of life.  I love you life, but sometimes I dream of death.  The electricity of positives, the duds of negatives.  Why must there be opposites?  I guess it creates the balance of life.

A patient that I was helping one day answered my usual “how are you?” to a beat of a new rhythm, he said, with a sigh, “I’m alive.”  I told him “Well, that’s always a good thing!”  His reply to my optimistic stance was “Is it though?  Death might be better, no one knows for sure.”

I thought of this as a really nice thought considering I wake up during the night clutching my bedsheets realizing that my existence will be nothing some day.  My “now”– which consists of my love for family, friends, pets, art, music, and other musings will all be black nothingness when I die.  Maybe it won’t be, but who is to say that when your energy stops in this life, maybe it really does stop and black out for good.

I think I know otherwise, because I feel like I have been there before….to the other side, I get these little flashes of deja vu as if I have been through death before.  I don’t know, I should really just stop trying to “figure” life out and get back to living it.

Before I ever pass away though, I have so many things I’d like to accomplish: explore S.E. Asia, visit San Diego, Volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, go to work at a job that I love, publish a book, go to South America for the World Cup in 2014,  explore more of Europe, make it to every continent, skydive, learn a second language, create a family, hike to Desolation Peak.  Oh yeah, I’d like to add more to the list as life goes on too, but this is a good start.  🙂

And instead of writing a blog at 2 in the morning, worrying and questioning about life, I should do what this bumper sticker I saw the other day says and that is: The meaning of life is to live it.

This is How

Struggling with some severe anxiety and insomnia until 4am last night (I suppose the two go hand in hand) I finally finished Augusten Burroughs’ most recent book entitled “This is How.”  I knew that he was a talented writer, but what a talented motivational spokesperson he is too!

I had seen Augusten speak at a book reading at the University of Minnesota a couple years ago and I remember I had left it feeling incredibly enlightened and inspired afterwards, this new book of his has done the same for me.

This quote, found towards the end of the book, especially touched me:

“This is how you survive the unsurvivable, this is how you lose that which you cannot bear to lose, this is how you reinvent yourself, overcome your abusers, fulfill your ambitions and meet the love of your life: by following what is true, no matter where it leads you.”

I will forever be thankful to myself for following my gut to Oregon, I have grown so much mentally and spiritually here.  I truly believe that I would have been so stagnant had I stayed in the terrible situation that I was in for the couple years before my big move.  This move was something that my soul deeply needed and upon reading old journal entries (I find that looking into the past can be extremely helpful, in moderation) my true self was screaming at me to do what I needed to do.

There is hope even in the most dire situations, I have learned.  I know that my situation wasn’t even that extreme, there are much more terrible atrocities going on in the world, but holding onto hope is the utmost important thing you can do in any rough predicament and that’s what Augusten speaks a lot of in his book.

I’m glad that Augusten Burroughs followed HIS true self and wrote this book because I think it’s message will help so many people out there and will reverberate positivity amongst so many readers.  So check it out if you haven’t already:

www.augusten.com

Mt. Defiance

After being asked by my new roomate Wil whether or not I wanted to hike Mt. Defiance with him in the Columbia River Gorge , I couldn’t say no.  Not only have I been saying yes to almost every opportunity that has been asked of me lately, I love any excuse to be in the Gorge.

“Okay, well, it’s been nice knowing you!” My other new roomate Heather cried after I told her of my plans to join Wil on the Mt. Defiance journey, she put her arms around me, embracing me with a hug.  After seeing this response, I questioned what I was really getting myself into.

After browsing through other people’s blogs and stories about Mt. Defiance, I was raring to go.  Most of the information didn’t sound so bad and having lived in Oregon for the last nine months, I have had my fair share of strenuous hikes.

The day of the “dreaded” Mt. Defiance hike, Wil, Odie (Wil’s dog) and I left the house promptly at 8 A.M. (surprising considering we are both night owls and I had had broken sleep the night before.)  I sipped the remainder of my luke warm coffee, which included a few of Odie’s pieces of fur, as Wil pulled into the parking lot after the “Starvation Creek” exit sign where our hiking book directed us to go.

We headed towards a trail that said it was leading us to Mt. Defiance, but we then got confused because it didn’t match up with what was explained in our hiking book, which explained we should walk on a trail alongside the highway for about a mile.  After walking back and forth a couple times, deciding on which route to take we burst out laughing realizing we weren’t off to a good start, at this rate we would be walking back and forth across the parking lot all day as if we were a couple of amnesia-addled lost folk.  We finally asked another hiker in the parking lot, who was sifting through his camera gear and holding a map that we so desperately needed.  He directed us to the right path and also warned us to be careful because of some washed-out trails that might deter us from making it all the way.

There were three waterfalls that we passed by within the first mile or so of the hike.  The first waterfall (which I didn’t happen to snag a photo of) is Cabin Creek Falls.  The second one (shown below) is Hole-in-the-Wall Falls.

The last waterfall (shown below) we came across is Lancaster Falls and it happened to be the one where my new running shoes got the first real taste of getting soaked as we had to cross the middle ledge of the falls.

The trail goes on winding for another mile or so and the steady incline begins shortly after this last set of falls.  The views along the Columbia River Gorge are spectacular as always.  Also, Wil and I noticed a bunch of plant life that we had (or at least I had, coming from Minnesota) never seen before.

Some views along the way (although the one of Wil hiking below is actually on the way back, but you get the point…..) 🙂

 

So eventually we did indeed come across the “washed out” trail that the nice, helpful man in the parking lot told us about.  It was at this point, coming to this washed out trail, that I realized what my other roomate Heather meant in hugging me and telling me that it was nice knowing me.  I got a heavy, sinking feeling in my chest realizing we might not defy Mt. Defiance on this lovely Sunday hike after all.  That was until Wil pulled out the red rope in his backpack, the red rope in which just a couple hours ago he had pulled out of his truck before our hike stating that we should bring it, “just in case.”  Wil crossed to the other side ever so carefully and confidently, then tossed me the red rope from the other side.  I whimpered a bit and questioned crossing this, for Wil (being an avid adventurer and rock climber) it was a simple methodic way in crossing, but I kept having visions of rock avalanches and falling to my death.  We had a gotten so far though, I absolutely couldn’t turn back now….I quit my whimpering, grabbed a hold of the red rope and crossed with precision.  Wil directed me to leave my heavy, lopsided backpack there on the other side in which he graciously crossed back and forth the washed out trail again to go get.  Below is a picture of the anxiety-inducing washed out trail….

After that adrenaline rush, the rest of the hike I felt wide awake.  We kept on going along the steep 4600 feet of elevation, Odie far ahead of us most of the way (he is one athletic dog) and me stopping to lean against trees every so often to catch my breath.  We came across a few more elements that wanted to test us, such as more treacherous crossings and packed snow, but after that first washed out trail, nothing seemed too difficult.

I think that Odie was getting sick of me being a paparrazi at about this point:

 

A few pictures of the top, including the not so attractive radio tower, but at least at this point you could hear no sounds of traffic or any other civilization for that matter.  There were just three other people at the top too….

We made it!  The rocks to sit at on top were so incredibly comfortable after having hiked six miles and the food we brought in our backpacks tasted like a five-course meal.  My muscles were sore for two days afterwards, but it was definitely worth it!

Also, halfway up there was this beautiful view of a lake that I’m unsure on the name of…….but what an awesome view!